The issue of review scores for video games isn’t something that new. People’s obsession with a higher number to validate their opinion of a product is nothing new. Scores are not the bane of the reviewing industry. They work as good gauges of quantifying the quality of a product. If I glance at a game, and it has an 8/10 rating, then I know that is a good rating.
BUT Y’ALL GOT TO CALM DOWN ABOUT THESE THINGS MAN.
Let me take you all back to the past. This is a story older than time itself. It’s 2006. The period where nothing was happening other than the economic recession being put into place. Mid 2000s, a terrifying time where absolutely nothing happened. Time just stopped for 7 years. AVGN was in his prime, and YouTube was just being established. And there was a little game called Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. This game was a launch title for the Nintendo Wii and promised to be a system seller. It utilized new, motion control technology for swordplay, and it was a very well reviewed game. It currently sits at an astounding 95/100 average rating on Metacritic. But there was one reviewer, from Gamespot, who dared to challenge this regime. Jeff Gerstmann, who was a GameSpot employee at the time, DARED to give Twilight Princess an 8.8/10.
Now if you’re a regular person, you see this and go: “8.8? That’s like an A rating. That’s a great grade!” To which I say, yes. Yes you are correct. But for the gaming community, this did not do. Jeff Gerstmann was lambasted by the gaming community for not having the audacity to provide it with the perfect rating.
Some highlights of these GameFAQs posts are: “EIGHT POINT ******** EIGHT?!?!?”, “lol!……8.8”, “JEFF IF YOU CAN SEE THESE POSTS YOU BETTER FIND A NEW JOB U FAT ASS”, and a petition, on a forum message board, for people to sign a petition to force employees to rerate the game. Because an online petition isn’t at all the prime example of being a slacktivist.
I know that example looks fairly extreme and that the reaction for an 8.8 for Twilight Princess is an outlier. But, the sad thing, is that reaction isn’t an outlier. This happens A LOT. People give into the hype for a game when it comes out, and gosh darn it if those numbers aren’t as high as they want they are going to be furious! It is this childish inclination to have a game support one’s conception of it. If somebody dares to slander a game slightly that we love, then there is a knee-jerk reaction to hate on them. How can they not see the beauty of something that we love so much?!?!And therein lies the problem. Reviewers have opinions. People reviewing games of different genres will have biases. For example, I hate racing games. I don’t find cars fascinating, and the gameplay for games like Gran Turismo and Forza never appealed to me. I prefer arcade racing games like Mario Kart and F-Zero. Now imagine me, having to review Forza, play it for 30 hours, and write my opinion on everything in it. That review would be a mess.
I already have disdain for the genre, and what is likely a great game won’t click for me. Can I dock the score of the game overall because I didn’t enjoy it much? Would I give Forza 5 a 9/10 when I would also give an RPG like Tales of Xillia 2 a 9/10? Probably not. These two genres are completely different, and one of them does not tickle my fancy. A solution to this issue is to find a reviewer who either loves everything a company does or is a fan of the genre. But therein lies a problem as well. If a reviewer already has an attachment to a game, then they are likely to overlook its problems and write the game off as better than it is.
An alternative solution is to find a reviewer who is skeptical, who goes in looking for flaws, looking to see if the game holds up. Sometimes the game ends up being really good, and it ends up being a positive surprise for them. But a lot of the time, a similar issue crops up to the optimistic reviewer. There is going to be a negative bias towards a game, and that is also problematic because it can lead to a review score that might be lower than if another reviewer took on the same task.
This problem runs deeper than inherent biases as well, as events from the past can also influence the perception of a game. For example, if a reviewer had reverence for a Mario game as a child, their review would likely cut a newer Mario game some slack. They would be blinded by their love for the franchise. Yet another bias that an individual can’t just whisk away. These biases and favourites are within us as humans, and they cannot be controlled. We may claim they can be controlled, but they can still appear subconsciously. For example, in my review of Valhalla, I was likely praising the aesthetic of the game because I love a Cyberpunk setting and anime artwork. Maybe to another person, it looks stilted and bland.
It also doesn’t help that negative scores lead to scorn and hate for a website or an individual. People usually want to avoid the negative PR or the controversy for daring to speak their opinion. For example, The IGN review of Uncharted 4 gave the game a 9/10, and it has 11000 dislikes and 5700 likes. This is for a 9/10, which is a phenomenal score. And every single one of the top comments aren’t actually about the review. They are all talking about the score and referring to the bullet points at the end of an IGN video that tries to sum up the pros and cons of a game. Did these people even watch the 5-minute review? I can’t make that judgment because I don’t know them. However, some of these comments highlight my previous issues with review scores listed earlier. They point out that Advanced Warfare got a 9.1 out of 10, while Uncharted 4 got a 9 out of 10. Two different reviewers with two different expectations gave a different score to entirely different genres.
Some of these comments on the Uncharted 4 video include:
“fire. this. lady.”
“kill yourself this game is an 11/10”
“Don’t review a game ever again” (this has 866 upvotes)
“You guys have no patience to play more down to earth/grounded games. All you want are mindless set-pieces and high octane action.” (that is just a baseless assumption)
I could go on forever but you get the idea. People call for this girl to lose her job and her life because a number wasn’t right for them. A number that doesn’t at all affect their enjoyment of the product they are consuming. A number that is completely arbitrary, and means nothing other than our own human conception of it.
It also doesn’t help that game review scores have gradually been increasing in averages over time. If a game on Metacritic gets lower than 75/100, it gets stamped with the dreaded yellow colour. It is deemed a “mixed review game”…with a 7.5/10. A good rating. It feels like big reviewers that give a game with a lot of hype anything lower than an 8 are seen as idiots who cannot do their job properly. When, in reality, an 8/10 is a great rating for a game.
The problem with review scores is thus: They try to quantify a qualitative property. They attempt to put a number to an opinion. A number that is arbitrary. Multiple people have multiple perspectives on every game they play, and that is a problem. But review sites can’t do away with review scores. People love an easy number to judge something, I do the same. It’s a problem in the gaming industry that permeates and just can’t go away. Removing a score can cause people to not check out a website anymore. Some people don’t even read the review, and only glance at the number. Can a site that pays its employees afford to remove that and potentially reduce earnings? It’s hard, but, I think it’s important not to take review scores so seriously. Judge a game by actual criticism and the words of the reviewer. If you are honestly curious about a game, read opinions and see if it matches your preconceptions. Don’t feel ashamed to like a game that others don’t. You’re different than everybody, and trying to validate yourself by lumping your opinion with another’s isn’t necessary.